An 18-year-old Grand Island resident escaped with minor injuries from a raging fire in his family’s townhouse early Monday, along with two cats, but a pet yellow Labrador retriever perished in the blaze that started with a candle, authorities said.
If it hadn’t been for a rapid response from the nearby Grand Island Volunteer Fire Department, headquartered about a quarter-mile from the Whitehaven Road housing complex, damage could have been much worse, according to residents and fire officials.
Several 911 calls were received starting at 6:19 a.m. as flames were shooting out of a townhouse apartment at 2079 Whitehaven, where there were six other attached, two-story units. Residents were evacuated.
“We were very fortunate. The firefighters made a quick response. I can’t believe how quickly they put out the fire. It was raging,” said Thomas Muscoreil, who lives in a neighboring townhouse.
Town fire officials said the blaze was brought under control within 15 minutes.
The destroyed townhouse was home to Linda Smith and her teenage son, Christopher Ray-Castaldo. A nurse, Smith was working an overnight shift and was not home at the time, fire investigators said.
“The teenager told Deputy Dennis Orlowski that he was on the couch in the living room, and there was a candle on a table behind the couch. He lifted the blanket off himself, and it inadvertently went on top of the candle. When he came back from the kitchen, the fire had started,” said Erie County Sheriff’s Detective Steven J. Meerboth, who investigated the cause of the fire with Detective Shaun B. Hediger.
After receiving first aid for smoke inhalation and minor burns from Christian M. Krawczyk, a physician with the Volunteer Fire Department, the teenager was transported by Twin City Ambulance to Erie County Medical Center as a precaution, according to Grand Island Assistant Fire Chief Christopher M. Soluri. The teen was later released.
Muscoreil said, “The poor kid was outside in front of the townhouse. He was screaming.”
Mark S. Sadkowski, another assistant fire chief, said the close proximity of Fire Headquarters allowed for an immediate response and containment of the blaze to one townhouse. “The flames were coming out the front windows, but fortunately we were right around the corner on Baseline Road,” he said.
Terri M. Cicatello, acting property manager at Town Hall Terrace townhouses, said the two-story apartment was ruined.
Damage was estimated at $75,000 to the brick and wooden structure and $30,000 to its contents, according to Grand Island Fire Chief Kevin M. Koch.
Neighbors said the incident left them shocked.
“It was crazy. Firefighters were pounding our doors to get us out. They were quick about it,” said Kandice Bradford, who resides in the attached townhouse.
“I feel sad for the boy, and I feel bad for the dog, but I’m glad it’s not worse than that,” said Deanna Claffey, another neighbor.
Mutual aid was provided by Brighton and Sheridan volunteer fire companies from the Town of Tonawanda, and a City of Tonawanda fire crew was on standby at Grand Island Fire Headquarters.